Knowing What To Do

The Basex TechWatch newsletter provides a summary of the week’s events. Every so often, they have a good commentary. This week, its by Steven Friedman (I couldn’t find a link to it online.)

Everyone has his own system for managing tasks or to-do items. Some rely on memory, some use e-mail, some use a big list, some have a personal assistant. But no KM package I know of handles the to-do problem
adequately. Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes, for example, include to-do functions but they are widely under-used. Why has to-do functionality consistently failed? How can we make our to-do management more efficient?

The very nature of the to-do problem makes it particularly hard to formalize to-do lists in a KM environment: how we go about choosing the tasks we do and the order in which we do them is a very personal matter. Compound with this the fact that many feel that their memory is much better than it actually is. And remember that to-do functionality inherently suffers from an acute case of feature-creep (for each item, we want to categorize and add in lots of other information, but the more
buttons included, the less likely users are to use it for the small stuff). We now have a KM market that is waiting to be conquered.

The integration of to-do lists within Groove Networks’ eponymous peer-to-peer software is precisely what makes Groove such an intriguing product with much potential; it seems as though it was designed specifically to tackle the to-do problem. Groove’s basic insight is that knowledge workers often organize themselves through e-mail, and that such organization can otherwise be formalized in a smart collaborative environment. Groove – with a good amount of success – turns actions into parts of a project and workflow, and allows users to jot down quick notes, all through a slick user interface, thus going a long way towards solving
the to-do list problem. It replaces the tendency to use e-mail as a to-do
list with actual project management. And other vendors, such as Team Direction, have add-ons to Groove that make it even more useful as a collaborative to-do list.

But the problem isn’t only technological. One of the most successful techniques for managing and improving your to-do efficiency is by writing down everything you have to do, from the smallest possible item (“respond
to John’s e-mail”) to the largest – and to cross-out, but not delete, items from the list once you complete them. The useful technique of recording even the smallest items, together with the psychological reinforcement of leaving a big visible list of how much has been accomplished, helps people improve their own task management skills. No productivity tool exists in a

I fall in the category of people who tend to write down things in my (paper) notebook. Of course, its a list which grows and grows and grows….!

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.